Paula Bennett releases Green Paper for Vulnerable Children – a great campaign photo op – but how about some real commitment to help the most vulnerable children right now – those growing up in deepening poverty?

Paula Bennett held a party in Aotea Square today.With bright balloons and live music from Mike Chunn she launched her Green Paper for Vulnerable Children to the admiring crowd.

National MPs, Green co-leader Metiria Turei and – for some odd reason – supporters of the Republican Party were among those attending.

What more could a politician ask for,four months out from polling day?

I hesitate to rain on Paula’s parade.Every Government and every politician should take our parlous situation in relation to child violence and neglect extremely seriously, and I know that the Hon. Minister does really care about this issue.

But like the equally Hon. Annette King from Labour, there are one or two questions I'd like to raise, including the most obvious: if this Government really cares so much about ‘vulnerable children’, why didn’t it take action a lot earlier in this cycle of Parliament, rather than waiting until the last few months before election day to release a paper which, after all, is simply a starting point for discussion?

There have been huge amounts of research and advocacy done in relation to these issues over the last decade, from the fantastic work done by Judge Mick Brown with his report on CYFS in 2001, through many thoughtful papers and recommendations from former Childrens Commissioner Cindy Kiro in her term of office – and much else.

If Ms Bennett had really wanted to make her mark, I suggest she could have built on what had already been achieved, and started work in December 2008,immediately after the election, rather than waiting until we’re on top of the next one.

Why on earth it took two and a half years to put this 32 page paper together is beyond me.I’m sure MSD is not that short of skilled policy advisors, even in the current straitened public service environment.

However, the second major issue today’s Green Paper fiesta raises for me is far more serious.

Its whole focus is on what is called ‘vulnerable children’. The report even acknowledges (p 4) that "nearly 20 per cent of New Zealand children live in poverty….(which) in conjunction with other factors can further impact on children’s futures."

If this is a sign that Paula Bennett and her Government actually concede child poverty exists, there is plenty they could do to help these children, long before the Green Paper consultation process wends its merry way towards its February 2012 conclusion (and there’s a White Paper – and a legislative process – to follow that).

Last week we learned that the consumers price index (CPI) was up by 5.3% in the year to June 2011.

Today, the Salvation Army reported that in a special Consumer Price Survey of their own, "a typical sole parent family has seen a 9.1% jump in its cost of living in the last year."

The Herald is running a special series all this week on child hunger – including stories of children going to school unfed, increasing reliance on foodbanks, and expected negative consequences of the withdrawal of a major school breakfast programme.

The Child Poverty Action Group launched new research on Monday night ‘Hunger for Learning: nutritional barriers to children’s education’, calling for government funding for a universal feeding programme in decile 1 & 2 schools – at a minimum – and preferably decile 3 schools included as well.

This is Aotearoa New Zealand in 2011, not 1931.

What should be a national disgrace is still converted by many into a debate around the failings of parents rather thancondemnation ofdeliberate, systemic discrimination against the children of the poor.

As the Herald pointed out so clearly on Monday, beneficiaries have only half as much as working families to spend on food – an average $109.50pw as opposed to $202.80pw.

Of course many beneficiaries don’t even have that much to keep their families fed.

If Bennett and her government want to get serious about helping vulnerable children, I strongly recommend that they immediately lift benefit levels to amounts people can actually live on; raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; and extend the In Work Tax Credit to the parents of all children, not just to those in paid employment.

I realise the likelihood of any of this happening is about the same as the chance that Don Brash will suddenly embrace the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Maori version) in Act’s campaign manifesto.

But I continue to harbour a flickering hope that the majority of voterswill at some point before November 26 wake up and realise that if wereelect a Government which simply fiddles around the edges while so manychildren live in worsening poverty – and with the violence and neglect that so often accompany it – it will be those very children who will pay the price.

And all the Green Papers and bright balloons in Aotea Square won’t help them one little bit.








Comments (14)

by Chris Webster on July 28, 2011
Chris Webster

kia ora sue

like you my cynic-o-meter is in the red zone. I walked around by this 'party' and observed the number of suits -all well fed-and nourished and looking very comfortable - thriving, belonging and achieving and hell they were not even children.

it was poetic justice that Paula Bennett launched her government's 'mea culpa' in the bleakness of aotea square - the grey concrete and the biting wind did much to concentrate the mind on how to stay warm and to look absolutely positively delighted.

Bennett's performance was false, artifical and her presentation soul-less - hell anyone can read a cue card - right?

The whole affair echoed the desperation of the position of children in our country - as Brian Rudman described as being the 'land of Fonterra'.

The Green Paper ain't pretty reading: therefore I hope it shocks and then knocks the complacency out of every citizen in this country.  The report's facts stats are telling:

10 children die at the hands of the people closest to them; CYF has grown by 205 per cent from 2004 to 2010 only 147 were confirmed by its social workers;

13,315 children were admitted to hospital for conditions that could be avoided: and

1286 children were admitted because of assault, neglect and or maltreatment.

In 2012 when submissions close on this paper will NZer's be reading an decrease in the above stats?

And like you the likelihood of this happening is for me to suddenly start believing unicorns with stardust in their hair run and swim in our oceans.

by Richard Aston on July 28, 2011
Richard Aston

I was there yesterday. My granddaughter (3) came and only wanted to get up on my shoulders when someone was singing or playing music - when the speaches started she needed to get down and eat apple pieces.

I must admit when the intermibly long introduction to Dr Cluckman showed no signs of stopping - her apple pieces were looking good.

Of course it looks like an election year stunt - that is part of it no doubt, but other collegues in social agencies there all shared the same hope that this intiative will run deeper ( and longer) than party politics. The answers to our shameful child abuse numbers are not simple and do need a far reaching approach , an approach I believe that needs to delve deeper to the sources.

I struggle with the idea that child abuse is caused by povety - yes the link may be there but is it causitive?

Sue your couragous Section 59 Amendment Bill started that worked off by challenging some fundemental attitudes to violence and children. Look at the crap you took for that!

It runs deep and I am not sure the link between poverty and child abuse is a causitive one.

by alexb on July 28, 2011

Of anyone who has a right to comment on child abuse, Sue you have the best credentials, as you were the last politician who was brave enough to actually do something about it. Bennett's ministry is a joke.

by Sue Bradford on July 28, 2011
Sue Bradford

Kia ora Richard - thanks for posting on this - good to hear from someone who was in the square yesterday, & appreciate your thoughtful question.  I also realise that the answers are not simple, and the challenge is there for all of us to try to make the needed changes, politically, and in our own lives.

But in essence, I reckon that child abuse, violence and neglect can happen in any home, regardless of economic factors; and that many many people on low incomes bring up their children well, without any of the above.

However, the cumulative impacts of living in poverty - housing inadequacy and transience, impact of unemployment or inadequate employment on families, impact of food insecurity; moving between schools or dropping out of school altogether, parent or parents not coping, mental and physical health problems (for both parents and children) - etc - all help create conditions in which children are more likely to suffer violence, abuse and neglect.

Both income inadequacy and violence/abuse/neglect need to be tackled - not just one or the other.

And if National does win the election, and does go ahead with the Rebstock welfare reform programme, I reckon the children of beneficiaries and people in the casualised, part time workforce will suffer many more negative impacts than they do now, which will only make the whole situation worse.





by Richard Aston on July 29, 2011
Richard Aston

I agree Sue the Rebstock reforms may well make matters worse - depending on how they are implemented.
I suspect part of the implementation may be to contract out the case management as they do in the UK. WINZ are clearly terrible at it and if a really human focused NGO did the case work it may amelioate the worse pontential in these reforms but if it is shopped out to a hard core business model - oh dear.


by David Smith on July 29, 2011
David Smith

I am sorry to say it is not true that "MSD is not that short of skilled policy advisors..." Isn't CPAG's case on Working for Families based precisely on the point that WINZ/MSD does not want to know about the real impact on the poorest children? 

by Matthew Percival on July 29, 2011
Matthew Percival

Giving kids free breakfast at school is like putting a band aid over a gaping wound.

Until we take action to stop people having children with no financial means to raise them the problems will continue.

by Andrew R on July 30, 2011
Andrew R

All a cynical election stunt.  Bennett has done nothing unitl now, then releases a discussion document looking at options she had recommended to her two years ago and sets the submission period to close after this election.

by DeepRed on July 31, 2011

@Matt Percival: then try doing it without breaching the Geneva Convention or the UNDHR.

by Matthew Percival on July 31, 2011
Matthew Percival

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know the first thing about the Geneva Convention or the UNDHR.

But it seems very wrong to me that when you take up a liability from the bank you need a credible financial plan, yet when you take on a liability in terms of bringing a new life into this world you can do so without the necessary financial means to support a life.

by DeepRed on July 31, 2011

@MattP: In plain English, there are only a few guaranteed ways to prevent the underclass from breeding, and abolishing the welfare state is unlikely to achieve that. And neither is fencing them in (and out) with razor wires. Chances are they'd involve a B-52 and some canisters of nerve gas, or some kind of fertility secret police. 1984's 'sexcrime', anyone? Or maybe Sharpeville in 1960?

We all know that helping them climb up the ladder is PC gone mad, don't we? Any accountant will tell us that a few bullets are cheaper than a school breakfast and an extra teacher.

by Matthew Percival on August 01, 2011
Matthew Percival

As an accountant I can confirm the bullets are cheaper but rather inhumane.

Throwing money at the problem to provide breakfast, extra teachers and anything else you want is an exercise in futility if things aren't conducive to learning within the family/household environment. Having adequate funding is an important part of that.

If parents can't produce a satisfactory financial plan at birth, primary school entrance and secondary school entrance we need to do something about it. Whether steralisation is the answer I don't know but I'm not satisfied at sitting back and having people breed children with little to no financial means to raise them.

Because by doing so we are setting up those children to fail and that is not fair on the children.

by Brendon Mills on August 09, 2011
Brendon Mills

Mr Percival,

It seems to me that the problems you highlight are mainly among those who drop out of school early without qualifications.

This is largely in part to due underfunded schools who gently push students at the bottom out to make themselves look good for international students.

If we ensure our school system focuses on giving children a decent education, rather than competing with each other for international students, which is a concequence of Tomorrow's Schools, this problem would be fixed in a generation.

by Mike Dee on November 24, 2014
Mike Dee

Hi Sue - I got this letter published in the Listener Nov 29 - Dec 5 : 

Dear Little Jack, Dear Little Sophie

As your parents and caregivers we love you very much. We know that consistency in all things is crucial for your healthy development, so we want to explain to you very carefully why we want those people in parliament to change the law back so that we can hit you and hurt you without getting into trouble for it. Of course, we don’t want them to change the law that stops other grown-ups from hitting us without getting into trouble, even though we’re not small and defenceless like you,  because well, that would be silly, wouldn’t it. You see, when you grow up you will find there are lots of rules called ‘Health and Safety’. They exist to stop people from getting hurt, so we’ll need to be able to make sure you toe the line and pull your heads in as soon as possible. Now Jack, we don’t want you to grow up resentful, vengeful and violent so we’ll need to be able to sort you out good and proper. And Sophie, we don’t want you to grow up timid and fearful, so we’ll need to knock some sense into you too from time to time, you see? Do you know that before that silly woman messed with the law, thirteen little children a year were being hit to death by their caregivers. Now it’s ten, so three a year more, well, it’s neither here nor there really. We suppose some people don’t know when to stop hitting so they probably should never start but that’s not us! Oh look, here’s an educational opportunity; how many extra little coffins, at three a year, in a decade? That’s right, Sophie, well done!

Now, when you’re very, very much older we may have to explain to you both about how we caused your sado-masochistic sexual aberrations but you won’t have to worry because it’s become quite popular after ‘50 Shades of Grey’. So for now, close your eyes and go to sleep, if you know what’s good for you! And you do know what’s good for you, don’t you, children.

It’s only because we want you to grow up to be exactly like us, your loving Mummy and Daddy.

Sorry for calling you, 'that silly woman' :-)

Cheers, Mike



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